HK film school puts kids behind the camera

Nonprofit school gives youths a chance to tell their stories

HONG KONG -- While the Hong Kong Filmart buzzed with global movie veterans talking about millions at the boxoffice and international distribution, one local nonprofit outfit is working to put cameras into the hands of children.

"We are a film school with a difference," said Elissa Rosati, founder and artistic director of Focus on Film, a charitable organization that gives 8- to 22-year-olds the tools to tell themed short stories with digital cameras.

With private financial backing running up to HKD 350,000 (US$45,000) per group session, Rosati and her partner Billy Lau -- both independent filmmakers -- draw groups of kids from the Hong Kong schools and summer camps.

Addressing issues such as environmental pollution with sponsor the Clean Air Network, Focus on Film aims to teach kids of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds how to make films of about seven minutes tops, emphasizing the importance of their own point of view.

"Some sponsors come on board wanting to shape the films and their message but we try to convince them it's about the kids' voice," said Rosati, an NYU Film School graduate. "And I'm pleased to say we've seen great success."

The finished shorts from Focus on Film's Clean Air Network session have been screening with subtitles twice an hour, 24 hours a day for the last month on the giant outdoor screen in Times Square in Causeway Bay.

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Last year, Rosati took kids' documentaries, narratives and experimental films to the Shorts Corner at Cannes Film Festival.

"We'd love to take the kids to Cannes or FILMART to show them what happens to a film after it gets shot," Rosati said, lamenting a current lack of resources.

Focus on Film's founding trustee is the Hong Kong benefactress Elaine Forsgate Marden and the group is advised by Hong Kong film and media industry veterans Darren Shaw, the nephew of Hong Kong moviemaking legend Run Run Shaw, and Fred Wang of Salon Films.

When not teaching kids to set up a tracking shot or edit, Rosati, a single mother of three children of her own, is working on her "micro-budget musical," which she describes as Larry Clark's "Kids" meets "West Side Story."
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